Iqbal’s message to us

Published: August 14, 2010
The writer is Professor Emerita at the University of Louisville, US

The writer is Professor Emerita at the University of Louisville, US

Allama Iqbal’s message which had filled millions of Muslims with revolutionary zeal and galvanised them into action, has been all-but-forgotten in Pakistan. How could this happen when so many Pakistanis love Iqbal’s poetry which they often quote, and when both Iqbal’s  birthday and death anniversary are nationally commemorated?

Iqbal’s message was a powerful source of inspiration when Pakistan came into existence in 1947, and in its early years. Every morning Radio Pakistan would broadcast Iqbal’s prayer for children which left a permanent imprint on their minds.  However, after some time, this prayer with which children began their day, ceased to be broadcast, and there are very few children today who are familiar with it.

It is particularly ironic that though Iqbal is loved by millions of Pakistanis for his poetry, his philosophy and vision are understood by a select few. In one of his most popular verses, he urges his readers to develop their “khudi” to such a high degree that God would ask them what they wish their destiny to be.  Though this verse is often quoted, how many people understand Iqbal’s philosophy of “khudi” whose development is an arduous, ongoing process which involves great discipline, knowledge, wisdom, and commitment?

Why has Iqbal suffered such amazing neglect in the country where he is hailed as the “spiritual” founder? To answer this question, one has to understand the moral, intellectual, social and political degeneration that, unfortunately, has characterised most of Pakistan’s history. Iqbal, the undaunted thinker who urged the oppressed masses to revolt against all forms of totalitarianism — religious, political, cultural, intellectual, economic or any other — was the vital force that was needed to free the Indian Muslims from their internal shackles and external bondage. But his words, his voice, his message, constituted a grave threat to those power-wielders in Pakistan who wanted to keep the people subservient, so that they would not challenge them or claim their own rights. To achieve this end they had to silence Iqbal’s anti-authoritarian voice as much as possible. The relegation of Iqbal’s vision and message to obscurity was, therefore, not by accident but by design.

It is important not to be misled by the lip-service paid to Iqbal by those who consider him a useful symbol that can be used to give legitimacy or worth to many things. What needs to be asked is whether this invocation of Iqbal’s name, image or words translates into any activity that is designed to bring about a transformation of the self and society?

It is high time that Pakistanis realise what has happened to Iqbal in their state and society.  They need to investigate why the writings of Iqbal — an invaluable resource — have been systematically excluded from the educational system and have been confined mostly to students in a few specialised disciplines. They need to reflect on why the vision and message of Iqbal have not been utilised for inculcating those qualities in the youth that would enable them to become exemplary leaders, or for the moral and intellectual development of Pakistan as a whole. They need to become aware of the grievous loss that they have suffered due to the obscuring of Iqbal’s ideas and insights. They need to begin the process of reclaiming their precious legacy and restoring Iqbal to his rightful place in their thinking, in their lives, and in their community.

Only when Pakistanis have done justice to Iqbal by making the effort to understand his thought and what he struggled to achieve, and resolving to make his vision a reality, will they be able to find the direction they need to take to make Pakistan what it was intended to be.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • rehan
    Aug 14, 2010 - 11:52AM

    Nice article Ma’am.I somehow can’t seem to forgive him..our VISIONARY COMMANDO.”Sab se Pehle Pakistan” was his beloved slogan.But I guess it is during his time that any bit of ‘Pakistaniat’left in any of us was crushed to the bones.He could’ve definitely upheld Iqbal’s message to the fullest at all forums,for he was SUPREME EMPEROR!But the myopic that he was/is,his vision was confined to singing/dancing,dishing down mobile phones to the poorest,unleashing the media(which eventually got him too!),and playing poodle to Uncle Sam..By the way,has he made any announcement/donation for his flood affected brothers?He can probably do away with ENGLISH rain for some time and have a taste of Pakistani style downpour.Recommend

  • Aug 14, 2010 - 1:19PM


    to understand any message one has to read first

    the irony is obvious…we’re the people of the book…(read…read in the name of thy lord…..)Recommend

  • Faseeha Arjumand
    Aug 14, 2010 - 4:33PM

    Post independence rise in extremism is directly proportional to the decline in Iqbal’s philosophy.
    The Congress Mullas have defeated the League’s leaders. The challenge is to reverse the pattern. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Aug 14, 2010 - 8:37PM

    Iqbal wrote,”Saare Jahan se acha Hindustan hamara”.

    That song is one of India’s national songs. So lets stop pretending he wanted a Pakistan that we see today.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Aug 15, 2010 - 1:45AM

    Madam, In India none of our national celebration is complete without singing “Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara” and remembering ‘Allama Iqbal’. Philosophical differences apart, we admire him as good nationalist and an able leader and for his teachings of ‘Ittehad’. Recommend

  • Aug 15, 2010 - 9:36PM

    Excellent post!

    @Anoop….ever read his Allahabad Address my friend? Pakistan was Iqbal’s dream.
    And that Hindustan writing, it was because he was born there and there were no two countires in it at that time.Recommend

  • Aug 15, 2010 - 10:33PM

    ‘Qomay farokhtand vicha’n arzaa’n farokhtand.’ Circumstances are not much bad as these were at the time of partition. No doubt, Iqbal’s philosophy can make fire to change a land’s fate.
    A thought provoking article. Thank you for it. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Aug 16, 2010 - 10:06PM


    Iqbal’s dream was a country like Bangladesh and India, not Pakistan. He didnt want his dream to become an epicenter of Terror and an embarrassment to its citizens!Recommend

  • Aug 17, 2010 - 4:20PM

    @Anoop….We are going through a crucial time and I beg to differ, Pakistan has had its fair share of achievements in every field and we Pakistanis are certainly not ashamed to belong to this country no matter what.
    Terrorism being always associated with our country does not mean it is the epicenter, this monster was nurtured by others too – shifting the debris of blame all on us is not correct.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Aug 17, 2010 - 9:25PM


    Fair enough about the reply regarding the embarrassment statement.

    “Terrorism being always associated with our country does not mean it is the epicenter, this monster was nurtured by others too – shifting the debris of blame all on us is not correct.”

    –> I do not agree with this statement. Yes, CIA supplied the weapons to the mujahideens through the ISI. But, they were doing it in a country thousands of miles from their own country! They didnt have to worry about the repercussions. They have done this kind of stuff all over the world. Plus it suited them that USSR loses and all they had to do it give money and weapons. But, tell me why did ISI had to support the same set of Mujahideens who later went on to become the Taliban after USSR broke up?

    You should think about the blowback when you are arming a bunch of Religious nut jobs with dangerous arms. It gives them ideas. Its the power hungriness of the ISI that has led to all this. It wanted to use those Mujahideens against India in Kashmir and in Afghanistan as strategic depth.

    Why would a nuclear powered country need strategic depth? This is just a stupid reason given by the Military establishment to further its interests which are in effect anti-Pakistan.Recommend

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